Increasing restrictions on civic activism in Armenia
The NHC has monitored developments in Armenia closely since the disputed presidential election in 2008. This fresh report provides an analysis of trends within civic activism since the unrest that resulted in 10 deaths on 1 March 2008 until the recent demonstrations against the Russia-led customs union. – The authorities’ reactions to civic engagement in Armenia over the last weeks is definitely a reason for concern, says Armenia advisor in the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Lene Wetteland. – Though Armenia has received praise for legal reforms and some positive developments in the EU rapprochement process, these recent actions should serve as a warning that these steps can easily be retracted, Wetteland says.
Compared to other countries in the former Soviet Union, the conditions for independent media and organisations has been deemed relatively favourable in Armenia. However, as the basis for comparison includes states like Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, this does not speak for much. Also, it becomes increasingly clear that the media and civic activists have had to keep within unspoken limits, and as their activities have increased, the authorities react negatively. Where the police earlier stood idle, allowing demonstrators to be bullied by counter demonstrators, police now increasingly engage directly in measures to prevent demonstrations. This is unacceptable in a society claiming to abide by the rule of law.
On the other hand, the recent awakening in civic activism is a promising trend. It shows that there exist a willingness to accept and include behaviour and opinions that challenge deep-rooted Armenian traditions. It might inspire some creativity. The report describes how independent activism and media regardless of state restrictions also have had to keep within the boundaries of what is deemed acceptable and what is not in a conservative society, but now tend defy these boundaries.
The Armenian authorities have failed to provide the population with adequate responses to corruption and traumatic incidents such at the 1999 Parliament shooting and the 1 March 2008 deaths. The economic situation is difficult due to closed borders, diplomatic relations severed or strained due to old traumas, and Armenia’s international reputation further damaged by the authorities’ recent U-turn in the EU association agreement negotiations. Little international attention is paid to the small country, which has limited national resources and market.
– Both the EU and the Armenian authorities have failed to adequately include the Armenian public in important discussions that will heavily influence the future of the country. Armenians’ distrust of both national and international institutions grows, says Wetteland. – With an increasingly tough economic situation and new restrictions on civic activism, the consequences for the Armenian population deserves more international attention than it now gets, Wetteland concludes.